Fair Game – a Tasmanian Memoir – extract

fairgame.jpg

The beginnings of this story I want to tell you go back long ago, to May, 1996.

I was living in Melbourne, and had given a workshop on writing, in Canberra, at the National Library of Australia. I had been staying with the Halligan family, Marion being a close friend. When I returned home I received a postcard from her daughter Lucy, and it was this card from the National Library that inspired me to set off on a project that has ended up here, at my desk in Castlemaine, Victoria, with the petals of the plum blossom twisting in the spider web that hangs from the golden ash. With the blackbirds.

Lucy’s card is one of at least eighty cards that she sent me over the years, each card bearing a lively, ebullient message, often in black ink, on the back. This collection of cards is for me a treasured memorial to Lucy who died from the complications of a life-long heart condition in 2004. The pictures on the cards, and the messages, reveal something of Lucy’s charm and wit, and her loving nature.

The card in question is a print of an entrancing coloured lithograph that was produced in London in 1832. The title of the picture is ‘E-migration or a flight of fair game, 1832’, and it was created by Alfred Ducote. Printed in black ink from one stone, hand-coloured. In 1975 the National Library of Australia bought the lithograph from the Dr Clifford Craig Collection. So just now I looked for information on Dr Clifford Craig, and discovered that while I lived in Launceston for the first 23 years of my life, with my playhouse and the pear tree, Dr Craig was living there, nearby, with his family and his collection of antiques which included the lithograph. Imagine. If I had only met Dr Craig, if I had only seen some of the objects in his collection of antiques, I could have contemplated this image long, long before 1996. But I confess that today was the first I had heard of Dr Craig.

I will get to a description of the picture in due course, but right now I am off on an investigation of Dr Craig. To summarise – he was born in Melbourne in 1896 and died in Launceston in 1986 (I rather like those twisty dates). He became surgeon superintendent at the Launceston General Hospital, after the resolution of an eight year dispute between the Tasmanian State Government and the local branch of the British Medical Association who had banned their own members from working in Tasmanian hospitals. Heavens – that’s all I know about the dispute, but it sounds interesting. I am getting my information from the internet, and I daresay I could dash off on an investigation into the matter, but I feel I must get on with what I set out to do. In 1963 Clifford wrote a book on the history of the Launceston General Hospital, but I’m not tempted to read that. There’s a portrait of him in the Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, but I don’t recall having seen it. Next time I go there I will look for it. The most important thing about him, to me, is that in his collection of antiques he had the picture of the butterflies.

Ah, the picture. A flock of softly multi-coloured butterflies hovers across the whole frame. They diminish in size from left to right, as they recede into the distance, flying away from the viewer. They don’t have the bodies of insects – they are all beautiful women with elaborate hairstyles, graceful arms and tiny feet. Beneath them lies the sea on which there is a sailing ship, and a small rowboat. The sun in the sky seems to be rising. In the left bottom corner of the frame is a small sketch of a cliff on the top of which are some pale biscuit-coloured Georgian buildings in England. Everything is pale, etiolated, except for the vivid butterflies. Between the buildings and the edge of the cliff, stand four tiny women wearing long blue dresses, white caps, and aprons. They seem agitated, and two are wielding brooms. There are two speech bubbles. What are they saying? ‘I’d be a butterfly’ and ‘Varmints’. Then in the opposite corner, where the ship is coming in, stands a group of little men in grey, one with a wooden leg. Castellations and soldiers with guns in the distance. On a rock in the foreground, is a fellow with a tall butterfly net, reaching up and out. In his speech bubble it says: ‘I spies mine.’ In the very far right of the foreground stands a plump priest in his white surplice and dark stole. ‘I sees a prime’un,’ says one of the men, and adds: ‘Get ready clargyman.’ And etched into the dusty brown hill behind the group are the words: ‘Van Diemen’s Land.’

So what is going on?

This lithograph is a satirical (yet strangely poignant and lyrical) record of the arrival in Van Diemen’s Land in 1832 of the Princess Royal, the first ship to bring non-convict women from England to be the wives and servants of the men in the colony. There were two hundred  women on board. There were also nine children who have never been identified by name. Nine children who have disappeared from history.

This ship with its cargo is uppermost in my thoughts right now, but I do need to return to Dr Craig for a moment, before flying on with the Princess Royalbutterfly girls.

As I read about Clifford Craig online, I had a feeling I knew one of his sons when I was at university in Hobart. I sent an email to an old friend, Michael FitzGerald, and he said he had been at school with the Craig boys. We can’t work out what has become of them since. Perhaps they have a presence, a trace, online, but I can’t locate it. However Michael recalled the fine manners of the elder one who had been Head Boy at the Launceston Church Grammar School. A group of boys, including Michael and the boy Craig, were invited to sing at Matins in the church of St Mary the Virgin in a tiny town called Hagley, outside Launceston. After the service the ladies of the parish provided a lavish morning tea. Now I must quote (with permission) from Michael’s email: ‘The choir members ignored the parishioners, rushed forward and fell on the food which they devoured before everyone’s startled eyes.’ The Head Boy, master Craig, however, had the grace and presence of mind to converse politely with the clergyman and the congregation. The others were in due course castigated by the Headmaster, Mr H. Vernon Jones. I realise I don’t need to name everyone in every narrative, but sometimes the names themselves are irresistible in their music and their weight. And it seems that not only did Dr Craig have possession of one of my favourite pictures, but he also had at least one well-mannered son, probably two.

Going back to Virginia Woolf’s Between the Actsfor just a moment, there is a comment about a Mrs Swithin being awakened in the morning by birds ‘attacking the dawn like so many choirboys attacking an iced cake’. Lovely!

Then there’s Mr H. Vernon Jones – I can’t let his name just slip by without a peep into his history. He had a fascinating sister. Several sisters, one fascinating. My two sources for information here are about as far apart as two publications could be. One is a small booklet called Keeping Up With the Jonesesby June Gee. It’s a family history of the Tasmanian Jones family. There is no publication date, but I see it cost me $6.95, so it must be quite old. In one photograph there is the date 1979 on a plaque. It was published by Mary Fisher Bookshop in Launceston who have published a number of invaluable little books on Tasmanian topics, some others of which are in my collection. The National Library was unable to pinpoint the date of publication for me. The Jones book tells a sweet and sweeping story, illustrated by intriguing black and white photographs. Maddeningly it has no page numbers – these need to be supplied by the reader. And the narrative offers tantalizing glimpses of other stories not told, such as the story of Captain Paterson who took his family on a cruise of the South Sea Islands. ‘Fijians stole his youngest son, and he was not recovered for sixteen years.’ What? But that’s all you get. More importantly, the stories that are not told – not even hinted at – are the stories of the Jones ancestors who came to Van Diemen’s Land as convicts. This information is in my second source, Bad Faithby Carmen Callil. It is possible, even probable, that the Jones family of today (2014) is proud of its convict past; but such pride is a fairly recent development in Tasmania where even official records of the dark past were deliberately destroyed, and where people worked on acquiring a form of gentility and respectability that denied many of the discomforting truths of the past.

On the Jones family tree as supplied by Carmen Callil, there are five convicts. Imagine, five! (A statistic from 1836 says that at that time seventy-five percent of the population were convicts or ex-convicts or the descendants of convicts. So you can see, quite a lot of families were mixed up in crime.) The Joneses of today are probably delighted to know of their ancestry. All that is far enough away to have become romantic. But the nine children of Henry (1864 – 1929) and Alexandrina (1871 – 1958), if indeed they had any knowledge of their transported ancestors, were respected members of Tasmanian society (a farmer, two dentists, a doctor, a headmaster) and were not about to reveal that knowledge. I am a fourth generation Tasmanian, and as far as I know there are no convicts on my family tree, but I can’t be sure. Perhaps there are one or two.

Bad Faithis the story of a French Nazi collaborator, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix (1897 – 1980) who was married to Muriel Jones (1893 – 1970), one of the sisters of H.Vernon Jones, the headmaster whose students gobbled up the goodies after Matins without a word to the ladies who had provided the repast.

Louis Darquier de Pellepoix was in fact the Commissioner for Jewish Affairs (1942 – 44) during the Vichy government, controlling a staff of over a thousand, and was responsible for sending nearly 13,000 Jews to death camps. He used the persecution of Jews to make a fortune from corruption, despoliation, looting and bribery. He was a successful conman, able to spin fantasies about himself on a grand scale in order to win the trust of others. His wife Muriel Jones was also most ready to spin great fantasies about herself. She was a skilled pianist and actor, an alcoholic, and by 1916, when she was twenty-three, she had left Tasmania for the mainland, where she married another theatrical performer, Roy Workman. They went to England. How she met Louis remains a mystery. She, who was falsely known at the time as Lady Workman-Macnaughton, married Louis, he being falsely known as Baron de Pellepoix, in 1928. As the Baron and the Baroness, after the wedding, they made a brief visit to Tasmania where they both seem to have delighted the family with their glamour. By the end of 1929 they were in New York, and the world was sliding into the great Depression. Myrtle never saw Tasmania again. She is described thus in Keeping Up with the Jonses: ‘a most accomplished musician. She married Baron Darquier de Pellepoise (sic) and lived chiefly in Paris and Madrid.’ Otherwise she is simply a name among so many in that little book.

Having realized that she was the sister of the man who reprimanded the greedy choirboys at the parish afternoon tea in Hagley, I couldn’t resist following, if ever so slightly, her history, not imagining it would take me to the wartime extermination of French Jews.

Now down to earth and back to Hagley.

Many a detail in text these days comes from the unreliable treasure trove of the internet, but it so happens that I am familiar with the church of St Mary the Virgin in Hagley, and in my library there’s a booklet about it. I confess to collecting such things, the booklet on the Joneses being part of the collection. When I went to look for the Hagley one just now I was in danger of becoming side-tracked into churches almost anywhere else – Western Australia, Alsace, Salisbury, Granada, or into such treasures as Gertrude Bugler’s Personal Recollections of Thomas Hardy, or, believe it or not, The Tasmanian Exercises in Arithmetic,a faded orange booklet, next to and resembling, FrenchSentence Tables for Schools.

The foundation stone at Hagley was laid by Sir Richard Dry (another name I treasure) in 1861. Sir Richard was born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1815. His father had been a political prisoner sent to Van Diemen’s Land in 1804 for his part in an Irish rebellion. The father was granted his freedom in 1818. Richard was one of the leaders in the Anti-Transportation League which worked to stop the transport of convicted British criminals to the island. In 1858 he was knighted by Queen Victoria, and in 1866 he became the first Tasmanian-born Premier of the state. He lived on the Quamby estate near Hagley, a property of 30,000 acres developed by his father, and he financed the building of the church. The tower and spire are dedicated to Lady Dry, who, I should say, established the National Trust in Tasmania.

You don’t need a lot of history of St Mary’s here, yet, but I can record memories of turning off the main road at Hagley and driving up a slight hill, along a narrow roadway lined with hawthorns and English trees, with bushes clipped into shapes like big buns and cakes, towards the narrow bluestone church with its tower and slender spire. You would have to call it graceful. I imagine daffodils – I don’t think I ever saw daffodils there, but my imagination is coloured by, perhaps, BBC dramas where to have a romantic church with a spire is to have a scattering of spring bulbs.

The Hagley booklet fascinates me, but I know I must resist the temptation to quote from it in detail – mind you, it’s packed with lovely glimpses of the past that you won’t find on the internet. The author of the booklet is E. G. Scott. (I once briefly dated a Scott from Hagley – possibly related to E.G. I like to think it’s a small world.) The bluestone for the building was quarried nearby, the freestone came from Kangaroo Point in the south of the island. How did they get the freestone from Kangaroo Point to Hagley in the 1860s? In carts drawn by draught horses I suppose, along raggedy roads. And ah-ha – Sir Richard’s head gardener designed the grounds – remember the shrubs like cakes – but the gardener remains nameless in the text. When Sir Richard Dry died in Hobart in 1869, a state funeral was sent from Hobart to Hagley, a distance of 210 kilometres. Pause to imagine. I had better quote from E.G. Scott. ‘For four days the procession, headed by a horse-drawn hearse, traversed the long rough road from the capital in the south, stopping on the third night in Launceston where the body was laid in state at Holy Trinity Church.’ The next day the procession travelled to Hagley, to St Mary the Virgin, where the body was buried in the presence of the Governor of Tasmania. Gosh.

I love this booklet about the Hagley church. One of its charms is the fact that everybody generally has two initials and a surname and a place of origin. Oh, and a title – they are all Mr, Mrs, unless they are Miss, in which case they get a first name. Miss Fanny Viney. There is also a Miss Home of Launceston, no Christian name. Nice surname. Such precise placing of the cast.

One time I went into the churchyard at Hagley. Very ancient plots in one corner, plots surrounded by rusty, broken iron work. But over in a newer section I found the grave of a child. Amy-Lee Josephine Stewart – her surname in very large block capitals. She died in 1973 when she was nearly two. The information was on a metal plaque attached to an upright stone. The grave was decorated with china figurines of animals – small teddy bears, cloth rabbits, and about a dozen expensive china replicas of characters from Beatrix Potter. None was stuck to the marble of the grave; it was possible to pick them up. But it was clear that they had not been disturbed for a long time. I marvelled at the fact that it was possible to leave these things on a grave under an oak tree, and trust that they would be there next week. Amy-Lee had been dead for about twenty years when I visited the grave. What, no vandals? What are graveyards coming to? I suppose you feel the approach of doom – yes – the next time I went there, a few years later, happily seeking out Jemima Puddleduck and friends, the grave was desolate, untended, abandoned, forlorn. I know I took photos on both visits, but the only ones I can find in my inadequate filing system are the ones from the second visit. I had for some reason forgotten that a good third of the plaque – greenish, probably copper – is taken up with a shallow sculpting of Little Bo Peep and her dancing (unlost) sheep. The stone is laced with florets of greeny grey lichen, the grave itself a jumble of dead leaves and, I think, straw. In a tired black plastic flowerpot lounges an eyeless ragged cloth rabbit, head tilted back, front paws crossed on his chest, one ear dangling. Beside his flowerpot, a few everlasting daisies, pink, white, yellow. Three Beatrix Potter figurines, faded and chipped, remain. Perhaps the most offensive object is an empty glass coffee jar, part filled with dirty water. None of this quite suggests vandals – just the passage of time in the churchyard, the passage of time. In small print on the headstone: ‘That which is you dwells above the mountain and roves with the wind.’ So here you have a coming together of Kahlil Gibran, Beatrix Potter and Little Bo Peep. It is difficult to analyse, yet it, among the straw and leaves and lichen, speaks of the depth and pain of grief with a peculiar eloquence.

With my true and deeper focus on the butterflies flying to Van Diemen’s Land, I find that the headstone image of Bo Peep and her flock chimes ever so faintly with the lithograph.

I have wandered, roving perhaps with the wind, off course from my contemplation of the butterfly women of 1832, they roving also with the wind. I know that frequently in this narrative I will waver, will veer off course, but I know also that I do this in the service of the narrative itself. Just a warning.

 

 

5 thoughts on “Fair Game – a Tasmanian Memoir – extract

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s